From Osterschinken Im Brotteig to Resurrection Rolls.
While many families associate Easter with baskets full of foil-wrapped chocolates, Peeps, and pastel-colored, dip-dyed eggs, around the world Easter is celebrated with a myriad of different traditional dishes—ranging from ordinary to odd.
From bread-wrapped ham in Germany, to a boozy nog-like beverage in Finland, to a complex 12-grain soup in Ecuador, read on for the history behind some of the most notable and unique Easter dishes eaten around the world.
Though many people grew up dying hard-boiled eggs in celebration of the spring holiday, how exactly did this odd, crafty custom come to be? The tradition of painting and eating eggs for Easter dates back to at least the 13th century, when eggs, which were forbidden during Lent, were decorated and consumed in celebration of the end of fasting.
Ironically, the origin of the egg as a symbol of springtime goes back to Pagan culture, which long considered the food to be an ancient symbol of new life. In the Christian tradition, Easter eggs were originally dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ and cracked open to represent the unsealing of Christ’s tomb.
Hot Cross Buns
Marked with a cross to represent Jesus’ crucifixion, these warm spiced buns have a history that goes back to the 12th century. As the story goes, an Anglican monk was the first to mark his baked goods with the symbol of the cross on Good Friday, and from there the tradition took off in popularity, particularly in England and its various colonies. In Jamaica—which was under British rule for a few hundred years—they still serve a twist on the English classic, the Bun and Cheese, at their Easter celebrations. Get your traditional Hot Cross Buns recipe here.
This traditional Greek Easter soup was originally made with chopped lamb liver, greens, and an egg-lemon sauce, and is still served in many homes around Greece the day before Easter. The soup was originally made with leftover parts of the roast Easter lamb and consumed right after midnight church services to break Lent. Today, the recipe can be updated to fit different ingredient preferences, like this Turkey Magiritsa recipe made with turkey leftovers.
One of the most popular—and delicious—Easter traditions in Russia is the Kulich, a tall, semi-sweet bread baked in colorful tins, topped with a glaze, and decorated with anything from flowers to sprinkles. The kulich was customarily blessed by the priest following the Easter service and eaten before breakfast. Like hot cross buns, Kulich are also traditionally marked with a symbol of the cross: the initials XB, the Russian phrase for “Christ is risen.” In addition to Russia, Kulich is consumed in many Orthodox Christian countries, including Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia. Get the recipe here.
A traditional Easter treat in the American South, Resurrection Rolls were crafted as a fun and tasty way to convey the story of Christ’s burial and resurrection. Crescent rolls are stuffed with a large marshmallow and placed in the oven, where the sweet centerpiece “vanishes” (i.e. melts) during the course of baking as a representation of Jesus’ disappearance from the tomb.
This Mexican dish, which is similar to bread pudding, is eaten throughout the Lenten period and particularly on Good Friday. Prepared with ingredients that are symbolic of the crucifixion—bread to represent the body, syrup to represent the blood, and cinnamon sticks to represent the wood of the cross—Mexican families serve the pudding as a reminder of the Lord’s suffering. To make your own, check out this recipe.
This egg-braised, braided pastry typically decorated with dyed eggs is a traditional Easter treat in Greece and many Eastern European nations. Also known as Lambropsomo—derived from the Greek word for Easter, “Lambri”—this Greek Easter bread is sometimes served with red-dyed eggs, representing the blood of Christ. Try a traditional Tsoureki recipe here, or for a more colorful take, check out this recipe.
This boozy Dutch beverage—which is a close relative to eggnog—is made with egg yolks, sugar, and brandy. Though this beverage can be found in the Netherlands year-round, it is traditionally consumed during the Easter celebrations, similar to Eggnog and Christmas.
This Ecuadorian Easter soup is traditionally prepared with salted cod, gourd, and a dozen kinds of beans or vegetables. The 12 varieties of “grains” are meant to represent the apostles, while the cod represents Jesus. The inspiration for Fanesca is said to have come from a centuries-old Christian ritual of sneaking grains and legumes into the Roman catacombs during Holy Week to feed the persecuted Christians. Though Fanesca is consumed throughout Lent, it is an essential dish to serve for lunch on Good Friday. For an updated Ecuadorian soup recipe, check out this Ecuadorian Potato Soup.
A braided, cardamom-flavored bread, Pulla is a popular dish for Easter celebrations in Finland. In addition to playful Finnish Easter traditions like kids dressing up as witches and going door-to-door for chocolate eggs and coins, the country also loves this subtly spiced bread for their Easter snacking. To get the taste, try this Sugar Frosted Cardamom Braid recipe.
Cosciotto di Agnello con Patate
While the tradition of eating lamb on Easter is common throughout the world, this classic Sicilian dish of lamb and potatoes is the main event of any traditional Italian Easter feast. The lamb is one of the most important symbols in Christianity, representing the sacrifice of Christ, and is still eaten at many celebrations of the holiday in honor of that sacrifice. For an epic Easter lamb recipe, check out this Mediterranean Roasted Leg of Lamb with Red Wine Sauce.
One of the most beloved Easter culinary traditions in Neapolitan culture is the Casatiello, a rustic, savory pie filled with meat, cheese, and eggs, with a recipe that dates back to at least the 1600s. Typically filled with salami and other antipasti served at family gatherings on Easter day, this rustic bread is usually only made for the holiday—though the similar Tortano can be found year-round. To make your own spin on the classic, check out this recipe.
This festive cheese dish eaten in a number of Eastern Orthodox countries, from Ukraine to Russia, represents the ultimate forbidden food during the Lenten fast leading up to the holiday. Made up of a number of ingredients that are strictly off-limits during Lent (Eastern Orthodox tradition entails abstaining from dairy throughout Lent), Paskha has long been prepared during Holy Week. Similarly to Kulich, its Russian cousin, Paskha was traditionally blessed by the priest following the Paschal Vigil the night before Easter. Paskha are also dressed up with a variety of religious symbols, such as a three-bar cross. Get a traditional Paskha recipe here.
Osterschinken Im Brotteig
This German twist on the Easter ham consists of a ham cooked inside of bread dough with an egg in the middle. The now distinctly American tradition of eating ham on Easter in fact is linked back to Germany in the 6th century, and now Germans tend to get their ham fix with an additional layer of carbs. For an updated, brunch-friendly take on this old-school classic, try a different combination of these classic ingredients with this Ham and Swiss Bread Pudding.
This Polish yeast bundt cake can be found in many Eastern European countries, glazed with icing and dressed up with nuts or candied fruits. The custom of eating subtly sweet breads for the holiday goes back to the consumption of sweetened “communion bread,” an Orthodox tradition dating back as far as the Ancient Greeks. This adaptable Hummingbird Bundt Cake recipe can be dressed up to fit your family’s own Easter traditions.